Football: Outsider's Cottage insight

Norman Fox meets the player who charted Fulham's story a season too soon
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The Independent Online
When Fulham suddenly became rich with Mohamed Al Fayed's money and no longer satisfied simply promoting that old Craven Cottage industry called nostalgia, the club's 30-year-old captain, Simon Morgan, who last season led them out of the Third Division, should have been looking to 1998 as the best year of his long career. But he begins it with two big regrets.

The first and hardest to bear is that a persistent knee ligament injury will stop him playing in tomorrow's FA Cup third-round tie against Tottenham Hotspur. The other is that if he could risk the pain he would kick himself for writing a book, On Song For Promotion, a year too early.

If he had waited, the story might have been about further promotion and certainly contained a fly-on-the-wall account of the most extraordinary months that even dear old, lovable Fulham FC have ever known. Morgan recalls that before last year's takeover by Mr Al Fayed the club had been doing nicely in their own modest way. Micky Adams, the hard-working, popular manager, was good at surviving on a shoestring budget and had put together a spirited squad that pulled the club from such a steep descent that they could even have dropped out of the League altogether. "Then suddenly Mr Al Fayed came along and Micky had a comparative fortune to spend and he didn't know who to spend it on," said Morgan.

Adams had no experience of being rich. "He'd got his players ready for this season but had no money so he was again looking at the bargain basement. Then Mr Al Fayed came in and was saying: `Here's pounds 30m, I want to be in the Premiership within three years or whatever. Micky hadn't even been looking at players worth half a million, so he had to change his whole outlook. It was obvious Mr Al Fayed knew that if we wanted to get players in from the Premiership we needed a bigger name as manager. You don't get much bigger ones than Kevin Keegan and Ray Wilkins but Micky will always be held in high esteem because he started it all. But the fans love Mr Al Fayed because he's given us a sniff of the Premiership."

The change also brought a whiff of fear for Morgan. "I'd only played four or five games after Ray took over when I got the knee ligament injury. The club bought several new players like Chris Coleman from Blackburn for pounds 2m and Paul Peschisolido from West Brom for over pounds 1m." They also bought Paul Bracewell, who had played with Wilkins and, predictably, took over the captaincy from Morgan. He says none of the changes made him or any of the other previously established players feel unwanted, "just apprehensive".

Morgan recalls: "Of the team who started on the opening day of the season probably only two will be playing against Tottenham. If you go back a bit further, of the side who played at Cambridge in the last game of last season, only one, Matty Lawrence, is likely to play on Monday. It all happened so quickly. One day we had a meeting at the training ground and in walked Kevin Keegan saying `don't worry we're going to give you a chance' - it had been the same when Ray had come earlier... nobody knew what to make of it."

Much as he insists that the new players have "mucked in" and that no dressing-room bad feeling has resulted from the changes, he admits that the players who were around a year ago have found the whole situation difficult to take in. "The club didn't have any money. Matty had been a `big' signing at about pounds 15,000 and the squad that saw us through last season was about 16 or 17. Now you can't get a peg in the dressing-room at the training ground. You have to get in before 10 o'clock otherwise you're changing in the corridor."

Morgan accepts that last season Fulham won promotion "on team spirit alone" and that the squad were full of cast-offs. "We were quite a motley crew, but the club was going in the right direction. The place was buzzing; there was positive news about the Cottage. Then in came the knight in shining armour, Mr Al Fayed. So suddenly, rather than consolidation, the fans began thinking about the First Division and the Premiership. I was not so sure. If that was what they were demanding, it was doubtful I would be part of it and a lot of the others were thinking they would be bombed out. Micky had been an up-and-at-em guy - aggressive. But Ray is laid back, a lovely fella, and he'll get the best out of you in a different way."

Morgan believes that Wilkins's newcomers who have experience of playing in the higher echelon will be especially important against a troubled Spurs side. "It's a great game for the club, one we've got a real chance of winning. The Klinsmann factor has given Tottenham a boost but we're in form after three wins - we've got a promotion push to look forward to. What have they got if they lose? A relegation battle."

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